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The Hot Countries: A Poke Rafferty Thriller


The Hot Countries: A Poke Rafferty Thriller

If there was any doubt that Timothy Hallinan is one of our best in the constellation of thriller authors, then THE HOT COUNTRIES should resolve that issue in his favor. A new Poke Rafferty book is always cause for celebration, and here he doubles down on his own practice of raising the bar on his previous efforts.

Whether you are a newcomer to the series or have religiously read every word Hallinan has written, from the Rafferty books and the remarkable Junior Bender series to the somewhat long-absent Simeon Grist mysteries, THE HOT COUNTRIES is Hallinan’s best book --- by far --- to date. It deals with the continuing blowback from Rafferty’s involvement with Haskell Murphy, a creature who was the embodiment of evil that has played out in THE FEAR ARTIST and FOR THE DEAD, which immediately precede this latest installment.

"Hours after finishing the book, I feel as if I’m still in Bangkok hearing the chatter of the street while wet from the rain in the air and the pulse of the city thumps relentlessly inside of me."

Rafferty is an American expatriate living in Bangkok, a travel writer who has made a career of writing bestselling guidebooks concerning the city that has taken him and swallowed him up. He is in love with Bangkok, but that feeling is more than eclipsed by his adoration for his wife, Rose, and their adopted daughter, Miaow. However, as the book begins, Rose and Miaow are immersed in British television to the extent that Rafferty seeks refuge at a Bangkok watering hole fittingly called the Expat Bar. The regulars are a group of American soldiers who remained in Southeast Asia at the close of the Vietnam War. They are old, infirm in various ways, and rapidly reaching the end of their bankrolls. These were the men who first took Rafferty under their collective wing when he was a wide-eyed innocent newly landed in Bangkok. Although they don’t necessarily like one another, they do have a common bond that is unshakable.

The atmosphere of the bar is disturbed by a man who introduces himself as Arthur Varney. His prickly presence is a mystery to those otherwise regularly assembled, at least at first. Varney’s enigmatic, non-stop comments, and some seemingly unrelated but cryptic messages, soon make it clear that he is aiming himself at Rafferty with all the subtlety of a heat-seeking missile. Varney has knowledge of Rafferty that he shouldn’t have and thinks Rafferty has something that he doesn’t have. It soon becomes clear to Rafferty that Varney has some connection to Murphy and will not be denied. A series of murders demonstrate that Varney is all but unstoppable. However, there are two things of which Varney is unaware: As dangerous as he may be, his sense of his own skills is just a tad over-inflated, and the Expats still have some of the right stuff left in them.

Meanwhile, Rafferty struggles to save a very sad and damaged young girl with the help of his daughter. There is a poignant set of vignettes whereby Miaow presents the girl with an extemporaneous soliloquy about the gift of love and how rarely it is offered, followed by a glimpse into Varney’s soul. The contrast couldn’t be more startling, especially since it introduces the book’s climax, which will leave you gasping.

I was howling with laughter at the beginning (over the nickname of a Bangkok restaurant) and a little misty-eyed (and maybe more) at the end, when Hallinan lobs one last surprise softball right across the numbers and catches the reader looking. Hours after finishing the book, I feel as if I’m still in Bangkok hearing the chatter of the street while wet from the rain in the air and the pulse of the city thumps relentlessly inside of me. I also miss the people I met as I would miss friends from whom I am separated by time and distance and may never see again. That’s all the result of great (marvelous, magnificent) writing. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 16, 2015

The Hot Countries: A Poke Rafferty Thriller
by Timothy Hallinan

  • Publication Date: September 6, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 161695762X
  • ISBN-13: 9781616957629